Dream Days At The Hotel Existence

Powderfinger

Universal Music Australia, 2007

http://www.powderfinger.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/24/2008

Considering the number of Aussie-authored reviews we’ve published this year, it’s about time someone besides native Mark Millan covered an Aussie group.  And Powderfinger -- a group with a 16-year, six-studio-album pedigree that’s sold over two million albums worldwide, but which many Americans have never heard of -- surely deserves the attention.

Powderfinger’s seventh studio album Dream Days At The Hotel Existence -- released Down Under last year and more recently out in the US on the Dew-Process/Fontana label -- offers a meaty serving of the sort of intelligent, classic-rock-influenced work the group has been putting out for years to an appreciative Australian fan base.  Taking their name from a song written by key influence Neil Young, the band has been very successful at home, winning 14 ARIA Awards (the Australian Grammys), including three consecutive Album Of The Year awards, but has struggled to break through in America. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Dream Day At The Hotel Existence finds the band focusing rather explicitly on the latter goal, flying to Los Angeles to spend nine week recording at historic Sunset Sound (Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin) with A-list producer Rob Schnapf (Beck, Elliott Smith, Foo Fighters, The Vines).  As if that wasn’t enough of an effort to Americanize the experience, they enlisted a pretty remarkable special guest in keyboardist, founding Heartbreaker and session man extraordinaire Benmont Tench.

As exemplified by opener ‘Head Up In The Clouds,” The Powderfinger sound is an intriguing mélange of dense, serious 70s-rock verses with expansive, at times anthemic 80s-U2 choruses.  These divergent but complementary threads come together superbly on the driving second track “I Don’t Remember,” a thumper with more than a little of the spirit of early Tom Petty in its bones.

First single “Lost And Running” takes a more plaintive stance, relying mostly on acoustic rhythm guitar on the verses, before blossoming nicely at the chorus.  Lead voice Bernard Fanning sounds like a less gravelly Eddie Vedder, pouring his heart out at the mike in deep and resonant tones.  If you ask me, a better choice for a single might have been the impassioned “Who Really Cares,” with its ringing hooks and strong contributions from Tench on piano and Hammond.

“Surviving” is another intriguing number, taking a subdued mid-tempo approach that draws a lot from the early Americana stylings of bands like Buffalo Springfield before erupting in its second half in an anthemic alt-rock singalong.  Finally, “Black Tears” telescopes the band’s sound down to acoustic guitar and voice for a gentle, intense ballad about the ongoing neglect of Aboriginal issues in Australia.

Powderfinger combines a seriousness of purpose with a coiled energy that breathes new life into classic rock forms, exploring fresh angles with a determined sincerity.  Dream Days At The Hotel Existence didn’t necessarily get under my skin the way my favorite albums do, but I regard that as more my fault than Powderfinger’s.  This is an easy album to admire, and for the right audience to love.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 2008 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Universal Music Australia, and is used for informational purposes only.